A young man reluctantly takes over his father’s mission against the embodiment of chaos.
If it’s possible to create a genre called “pulp philosophy,” Montag (The Dichotomy, 2015, etc.) has done it. The plot of the author’s latest novel hews to the conventions of pulp fiction, with tough-guy dialogue; bruising, exquisitely detailed fights; world-weary men beaten down by fate; and world-weary women worn down by loving them. The dialogue and interior narration, however, also revolve around the inner workings of a philosophy department at an upstate New York university and the quandary of philosophy in the face of pure chaos. This chaos is embodied in a sinister character known only as the “old man” and his sidekick, O’Grady. Alec McDougal is the son of Alexander McDougal, a philosophy professor at Durcheinander (“chaos” in German) University. There, the “old man” once made an academic conference go horribly wrong, and more than 50 people died. Alec fled to Northern California, but inevitably, he inherits his father’s failed war on the old man and all he represents. The basic plot is fairly simple, but it’s fragmented and refracted through the twin journals of Alec and Alex, each full of surreal visions and dialogue such as, “Steinberg isn’t bringing trouble with him....He’s going to lay bare for all to see the darkness in each of our hearts.” Yet the novel doesn’t reveal the facts of what exactly happened at the doomed conference until 25 pages from the end; up to then, it’s mostly nervous allusions and missing journal pages. It also doesn’t provide clear context for Alec’s initial apocalyptic vision or its connection with any other events—is it a vision of the original conference or a prophecy of a conference yet to come? The very idea of a philosophy lecture devolving into mass slaughter is more than a little absurd, but readers are apparently expected to read it straight and to valorize the men who do the hard, lonely work of thinking about chaos. However, the very text in which this occurs is itself riddled with chaos.
A thriller that melds Mickey Spillane with Mr. Chips, with predictably chaotic results.